Thursday, April 2, 2009

Burn and pop...

"Cherokee and other ritual specialists used deer tongues in divination, by throwing them onto a fire using the manner in which they burned or popped to forecast sickness or health, success or failure, drought or rainfall...."

-- Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian (Norton, 1999), p. 155.

Neuroscientists and other physiological specialists use neurons in prognosis, by viewing them in an fMRI using the manner in which they interact to forecast behavior and disease.


unBeguiled said...

This post is disgraceful.

the Cogitator said...

For an ideologue like yourself, any exercise in thought must be disgraceful. Do you know anything about philosophically exploring the relative structure of thought systems and arguments?

You present a video of Joel O'Steen as if it's some kind of cogent argument against "religion in general" (if there is even such an animal), and then some featherhead chirps in how it's just like fascists and radical socialists waving their little colored books (clever!), and then you just saunter in and spit on this tiny exercise in comparative analysis. You are a troll with a bloated tongue, a fat-mouthed Cheshire cat of online sophistry.

But I'll give the benefit of the doubt and ask you to explicate the analogically key differences between the ritual auguring of deer tongues and neuroscience.

Do you think I endorse everything I post here? Don't you think sometimes I post things in order to highlight bad arguments? Stop sucking your thumb and start chewing that concept.

unBeguiled said...

I'm not sure what I have done that justified that rant. I shall ignore it.

Concerning the Osteen thing: I recently attended a lecture analyzing various techniques preachers use to manipulate their audience. I think Osteen uses that childish mantra to induce a hypnotic-like state of credulity.

The key difference between neuroscience and reading dear tongues: predictability.

For example, on Monday I saw a patient that reported a few weeks of difficulty speaking and a clumsy right hand. I tentatively diagnosed a sub-acute stroke and pointed to a picture of a brain indicating the spot where I expected to find the abnormality on the MRI. I was correct.

MRI findings predictably correlate with symptoms. Symptoms predictably correlate with MRI findings.

Can the same be said for deer tongues?

Why do you hate neuroscience so much?

Elliot B said...


My rant was triggered by your habit of leaving terse, usually presumptuous, dismissals of otherwise nuanced or articulate thought. Not that this post was articulate, but it was meant to elicit aporia, which means it does possess some elusive nuances. Maybe it's because I'm a teacher, but I stand by the old kindergarten wisdom, "If you don't have anything nice to say, you don't have anything to say." I post a fairly innocuous Gedankenexperiment about deer tongues and neuroscience, and then you, true to form, just dart in with a snide dismissal. Did you even consider asking what I was getting at? No, not at all -- although I know you can do so, such as the time when you admitted you weren't sure what I was getting at in my post a few weeks ago about footsteps and causation (to which I shall return when my schedule dies down a bit). I simply can't stand snide arrogance putting on airs of rgeat wit, and, while I have come to see you are not inveterately snide, I was just so annoyed to see you lapse back into that mode of expression. It doesn't help that I am under a good deal of emotional stress at the moment: a long-term relationship with my girlfriend is crumbling, one of my mentors just suffered a possibly fatal ailment, another friend is semi-suicidal and I'm his only go-to aide, it's midterm grading time, etc., etc. I don't list those things as "excuses" for my rant, but they are reasons. So, I apologize for speaking too sharply. But please, just keep the troll tongue to yourself if all you have to offer is contemptuous snorting. I'm in a grumpy mood of late, and it was a mistake to reply to your "reply." It was a failure of charity on my part when I saw you failed to be charitable with me.

In any case, I don't hate neuroscience. One of my long-running philosophical interests is causation and the nature of explanation. I return to neuroscience more than other forms of science, perhaps, only because I find it more interesting as a heuristic training device. I have a strong intuition that the past several centuries of "scientific explanation" are infested with sloppy, loose thinking about causation per se. Hence, I am intrigued by what really draws the line in the sand for a properly scientific explanation versus what doesn't. In a deterministic universe, every physical interaction strictly entails its subsequent effects. Therefore, given sufficient knowledge of the atomic correlations between the fire, the tongue, and next year's rainy season, a Laplacian demon could predict any number of things from the popping and burning of a deer tongue under Cherokee eyes. Indeed, in a strictly deterministic universe, one could predict the ailments had by your patient as well as the correct MRI diagnosis from millions of years before. Logically, therefore, one could also extrapolate backwards from that MRI and those ailments to immensely ancient antecedent conditions. On determinism (with formal reversibility), it's just a matter of which end of the telescope you choose to look through, once you have sufficient knowledge. So, assuming a Laplacian demon had adequate physical knowledge, it could indeed predict a patient's condition from the merely phenomenologically "removed" deer tongue augury. Hence, there is no strict difference between deer augury and neuroscience, merely a limitation of empirical data. Paradoxically, then, we rely on MRI's and the like precisely because we know so little. A complete science, by contrast, could look at anything and predict and explain anything else.

At this point you’ll probably interject something about quantum indeterminacy and chaos theory to account for the inexactitude of an otherwise allegedly exact science. But what then of predictability as the keystone of science? Is quantum mechanics, rooted as it in these days in the Copenhagen interpretation of radical indeterminacy, not an exact science? Is chaos theory, which is predicated on natural unpredictability, not a real science? Says who? Why?

unBeguiled said...

Apology accepted. I apologize for my uncharitable misinterpretation.

Two main points:

Given a Laplacian Demon that could contra-causally gather or posses information, then I see your point. But, it seems such a demon is impossible.

Second, we (scientists) are well aware of the inexactness of our pursuit. But no philosophical argument will stop me from doing what I do. Like the T-Shirt says: SCIENCE: It Works Bitches!


A side bar on me and you.

Why did I use the word 'disgrace'?

I thought the point of your post was the boiler plate claim by some Christians that science or non-theism or whatever is a "religion". I think this claim is self-defeating because the underlying message is that a religion is something about which we should be embarrassed, which is a disgraceful thing for a religious person to suggest. I know now that was not what you were doing. (You never will find a scientist attempting to ridicule religion by calling it 'science'.)

Second. You are in a pressure cooker. If I knew how to let some steam out I would, but I don't. Sorry.